A person visiting America once asked me about the local church where I was connected. His approach was insightful. He requested to borrow a hymnbook of what the local church sang. He said our singing would tell him what he needed to know.
I agree with this neighbor’s central understanding, that a church sings what it believes. It appears some of the hymns of the early church are in the New Testament, and that the church has always been singing what it believes. As a window on what the followers of Christ at Forest Home believe, please consider the one page sheet of various songs we heartily sing. LH
Beliefs We Sing (please click to view)
Nicene Summary of Bible Teaching (Click to View)
Why Do We Call Forest Home a Church of Christ
A common question I hear from visitors to FH is, “Why are you called a Church of Christ?” We could certainly point to tradition and how this has been the name of the group meeting here since the building was a one room schoolhouse. But why continue to be identified as “a church of Christ?” I believe there are some very good reasons. Do you find these reasons compelling? LH
Here are several:
Because it is one of the Bible names for a church.
Because the church is the Bride of Christ.
Because Christ is the Head of the Church.
Because Christ is the cornerstone and builder of the Church and locally this Church.
Because all authority has been given Christ in heaven and on earth.
Because Christ is bigger and better than the mistakes of us who have used His name
Because the Father is summing up all things in Christ
Because Jesus is the beginning . . . that in everything he might be preeminent
The church has been, is, and will be conformed to the image of Christ
We are purchased with Christ’s blood and are not our own
We are free and living by His blood
Jesus is our Bread
Christ is our Lord and Savior
Jesus is the One who pours the Spirit of God on the church
In Christ all things hold together
Jesus cherishes the Church and will present her without blemish
He is our greatest Good and Highest Joy
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
Worthy is the Lamb
A Helpful Statement on the Gift of Sexuality
The elders at Forest Home (and I) find most helpful a statement used by L’Abri Fellowship outlining the place of sexuality in the Christian walk. We have considered many statements over the years, and believe that this one covers the most ground with the fewest words while being faithful to the Scriptures. I have added numbering and highlights in bold to aid in reading. It offers basics on topics often overlooked, such as singleness. Which number strikes you as challenging? Many have confessed number 4—which is in direct conflict with the media-conditioning of our televisioned brains. Would you please read carefully and reflectively, and several times. The nuances are important and helpful. LH
1) Male and female were created equally in the image of God. They are the same in value, dignity and responsibility before God, and are equally accountable to exercise caring rule over creation (Gen. 1:27–8; 2:15).
2) Within the basic unity of the human race, God has established the sex difference of male and female, which is good. We must neither deny the sex difference (the tendency of liberal feminists) nor make more of it than the Bible does (the tendency of both radical feminists and some traditionalists).
3) Men and women need and complement each other and are called to live in unity and peace in all areas of life and work. Whether single or married, Scripture teaches that it is not good for man or woman to be alone. Neither the division of labor nor leadership responsibilities (e.g. those normally associated with the ‘traditional view’ of marriage) need be exploitive if established by mutual consent and practiced in a wise and godly manner.
4) However, while men and women do need and complement one another, sexual experience should never be considered central to human experience. Human fulfillment whether in marriage or in singleness is not chiefly related to sexual fulfillment, but rather, to a proper relationship with God and a conformity to his word.
5) Therefore singleness need not necessarily be viewed negatively even when it arises, as is often the case, not by choice (as with celibacy) but by default (when those who desire marriage remain unmarried). Those who are unmarried have particular struggles and deserve the sensitive support of the church; but those who are married also have particular struggles.
6) In both cases human fulfillment arises from ‘true spirituality’ not from the presence or absence of sexual experience. Singlemen and women have a unique vocational freedom to serve Christ unhindered by responsibilities to husband, wife or children — and Scripture makes it clear that for some, celibacy is a calling and gift of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 7:17–40).
7) At the same time, however, marriage is a creational norm for the whole human race. It is a gift of God in which a man and a woman can experience a profound unity in diversity as a reflection of the glory of Christ’s union with the Church. For this reason, although divorce is sometimes permissible, it is always a tragic falling short of God’s intention. Marriage is a lifelong, covenantal relationship of mutual submission where the two become one, sharing a joint life before God. Within this, the wife is to submit to the husband and the husband is to follow Christ’s example of loving, self-sacrificing headship toward the goal of the wife’s growth toward glory or “radiance, without spot or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27). Sex is a good and pleasurable gift from God. It gives physical expression to the union of a husband and wife, and brings forth the gift of children. Faithful, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only legitimate context for sexual intercourse.
FOREST HOME CHURCH:
On Economic Justice: A Statement of Understanding Regarding Financial Blessings and Their Application
These affirmations and denials are intended to provide a theological framework for viewing economic justice as it relates to the various mercy ministries in which members of Forest Home Church might engage, as well as those directly supported by the church. We desire to encourage active involvement in the mercy work of our church, and in such a way that simply shows us to be overflowing with gratitude as we live out the implications of what God has done for us.
This is a working document, and we invite response and feedback. This statement as a whole represents our corporate conviction as an eldership. The Scripture texts cited are simply meant to “show our work,” and to demonstrate that we are seeking to develop this statement in submission to the teaching of Scripture. But agreement with this document does not require agreement with the citation of any particular verse or passage. In other words, the proof texts are intended to support this statement, but are not to be considered as a part of it.
The statement addresses four broad, interrelated topics. Our statement begins with the problem, an unbelieving world under Mammon, and then moves to a treatment of the sacrificial violence that overthrew the violence of Mammon’s realm. Our statement then moves on to a treatment of the kingdom ethic that believers should embody throughout the course of their lives, first distinguishing sins from crimes, and then moving on to the twin headings of generosity and mercy.
The elders do not intend for this statement to be used in a way that would stifle discussion about these issues in the congregation, or to discourage wide reading or thinking about them. Rather, we simply want the people who support the mercy ministries of our church or who are involved in such ministry outside the church to have a Scripturally contextualized and informed basis for judging such ministry, to know the results of our study and thought, and to know what we consider the scriptural foundation for our work to be. While we do hope to exercise leadership on these issues, we do not want such leadership to be interpreted in a restrictive way.
Mammon is the manifestation in all its forms of a world detached from God. It is, in the purest sense, the worshipped “created thing” (whether created by God or mankind) rather than the TRUE object of worship. It is the thing cherished, reveled in, trusted in that is not the true God. It is a world system of self-or-thing idolatry and indulgent gratification, human power, manipulation and exploitation. In this sense, it has many aspects; it could be the self-gratification of wealth (score-keeping), ruthless projection of power in economic exploitation or manipulation (and in these, it is usually allied with political power), debauchery and sex-obsession, self-indulgent laziness or lethargic fatalism, or living with incessant lust for novel experience. It is possible, therefore, to be aloof from one aspect of mammon while in thrall to another.
We affirm that we need to understand our relationship to material things – the wealth supplied by God – in light of the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. God is the maker and sustainer of all material things, and He declared them all to be good (Gen. 1:31). There is no sin resident in things themselves. Nevertheless, as a result of our disobedience and fall in the Garden of Eden, the human race has become hopelessly and idolatrously entangled with the good things of this world, and so even as believers we must therefore constantly guard our hearts with regard to His good gifts. And last, we affirm that just as God did not write off this fallen world, neither should we. Because of the redemption accomplished by Christ, we are laboring for the day when all things in heaven and earth are again reconciled, with our material possessions included.
We deny that the fallenness of the world around us creates any necessary guilt as we receive blessings from God. God promised blessing to those who walked in His ways (Deut. 28:1-12). Our place in the world is to function as the future of the new humanity – the Kingdom of God – and we are therefore called to model a grateful use of the blessings that God bestows. The one who gives sacrificially does so to the Lord. The one who gives generously and remains a steward of the rest does so to the Lord.
We affirm that our central duty with regard to our material goods is gratitude to the God who richly provides us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). We know that God blesses covenantal faithfulness with abundance. He does this with nations in covenant with Him, filling their vats with wine (Dt. 7:13). He also does this with faithful believers in the midst of ungodly nations, as He did with Daniel in Babylon and Joseph in Egypt. So to fly from wealth as an evil in itself is a flight from maturity, and misses one of the central lessons we must learn, which is that of gratitude.
We deny that this requires us in any way to “explain away” the many scriptural warnings about the seductiveness of such wealth. If the Lord says that it is easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Matt. 19:24), we don’t make the problem any easier by multiplying the number of camels. If Amos castigates those who oppress the poor and crush the needy (Amos 4:1), it is not our right to offer them false comfort. If James tells the rich to weep and wail, we do not want to be found telling them to cheer up (Jas. 5:1). If Paul tells us that a greedy man is not qualified for the eldership (1 Tim. 3:3), we don’t want to maintain that holding to this requirement amounts to “peering into hearts” or “judging motives.”
We affirm that mere possession of wealth is not synonymous with Mammon-worship, any more than the enjoyment of a rich sexual fulfillment in marriage is synonymous with lust. We define Mammon as a false god, as a representative of the world, and the worldly way of conducting human affairs. Therefore, those Christians who are financially rich in this present world are instructed to keep their hope set on God, and not on false idols, and to be rich in good deeds (1 Tim. 6:17-19). They are not told to jettison their wealth, unless it has been gained unjustly, which is not what occurs in the normal process of trading goods or services. Throughout the Bible, the basic antithesis is between the righteous and unrighteous, the elect and reprobate, the obedient and disobedient, the covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking. It is not between rich and poor, black or white, Jew or Gentile, male or female (Gal. 3:27-29). Even though these other divisions can be and have been the occasions of much sin, they are not themselves an expression of the essential division between sin and righteousness.
We deny that faithfulness at this point is easy. The love of Mammon is a subtle sin, and so many believers have entangled themselves by speaking biblical truths while not understanding the remaining sinfulness of their own hearts. “God does not mind His people having things, but does mind things having His people.” This is completely true, and is a good summary of what is being set forth here, and yet it is the kind of truth that can be readily turned into a free pass. It is too easy to say the right things and not really do them (Luke 6:46). The true sign that an individual is free from Mammon is true contentment (Phil. 4:12). Whether well-fed or hungry, a content man is established in Christ. Whether well-fed or hungry, a discontent and driven man is always a slave. A godly man knows how to abound, and how to suffer want.
We affirm that the service of Mammon is to be understood as occupying the very center of the system of the unbelieving world, and so we may define it as worldliness—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These three lusts summarize nicely the allure that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had for our first parents—it was good for food (Gen. 3:6), it was delightful to look upon (Gen. 3:6), and it promised to make men wise (Gen. 3:6). To serve Mammon is to love the things of this world with an inordinate affection and lust, that is, to love the things of the world in a way prohibited by God. Mammon is a fundamental idol, one that competes with God for our most basic allegiance. But you cannot serve both God and Mammon (Luke 16:13). One must give way to the other in the allegiance of our hearts.
We deny that this means that believers must live in a way separated from all contact with the world of Mammon. Believers are called to learn how to possess and use the currency of Mammon rightly (Luke 6:9, 11). Wealth as such is never condemned in Scripture; it is only in the context of the very common failure to use the instruments of Mammon in the way Christ instructed that we find a scriptural condemnation.
We affirm that that which bears Caesar’s image may be rendered to Caesar; that which has Washington’s picture on it may be mailed to Washington (Luke 20:25). But that which bears the image of God may not be rendered to anyone other than God Himself.
We deny that our payment of taxes places the Kingdom of God under the authority of the kingdom of men. We pay taxes because God requires it of us (Rom. 13: 6-7), not simply because the magistrate requires it. We pay taxes, not because we are under bondage, but rather because as free men we are resolved not to give them reason to be offended and charge us with rebellion (Matt. 17:24-27).
We affirm that the tenacious hold that Mammon has on the unbelieving world is therefore the hold of an all-encompassing cultural/economic system. Such cultural/economic systems are far greater than their respective currencies, and also must be seen as including all the items available for purchase, as well as the deep-seated cultural attitudes that place a peculiar value on those things to be purchased—including sex, glamour, sleek cars, respect, delicacies, gold, guns, empires, computers, diamonds, and more. This is why economic rebellion against God (Ez. 16:49) cannot be separated or detached from sexual rebellions (Jude 7), militaristic or imperialistic rebellions (Gen. 11:1-4), or luxurious and ostentatious rebellions (Amos 4:1; 2 Sam. 15:6). Mammon represents an idolatrous world and life view, and this is why disobedience in economics, sex, or war will never be separated.
We deny that the law of God can be set at odds with itself. While there are greater and lesser sins (Gen. 18:20; 1 Sam. 2:17), to break the law at just one point is to be guilty of breaking the whole (Jas. 2:10). The worldly system of Mammon must therefore be opposed as a system; we must not allow ourselves to drift into piecemeal opposition. Arrogant materialism, false “marriages”, abortion mills, and extreme nationalism, are all different ways the disobedient culture of Mammon has for rejecting the lordship of Jesus Christ. When taking the field against an opposing football team, you play the entire team and not just the left tackle. You respond to all the plays they run, and not just some of them. As the church seeks to respond, we have to remember the principles of body life, wherein each member of the body performs the function assigned by God. Not every member is called to do every thing, but the church as a whole is called corporately to respond across the board.
We affirm that that which triumphs over Mammon is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All that Mammon had to offer was offered to Jesus if He would just bow down to Satan (Matt. 4:8), but He refused, preferring rather to conquer those empires of Mammon through His death on the cross (Jn. 12:31), taking and possessing them for His own, by right of conquest. All the principalities, including that of Mammon, are therefore required to submit to Jesus Christ, and are in principle included in His reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth (Col. 1:16-20). Because Jesus is the Lord of all, the world, by refusing to bow to Him, is attempting a revolution against His lawful kingdom and rule. The true culture of humanity is therefore Christ’s, and the world of Mammon is an attempt at counter culture, one that is doomed to fail.
We deny that Jesus refused the kingdoms offered to Him because He did not want them. Because Jesus conquered sin and death, the Father offered Him the nations for His inheritance, the ends of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2:8). His charge to us was to throw down the temples of Mammon in every city center and replace them with sanctuaries of the triune God (Matt. 28: 18-20), in which the “created gods” resume their rightful place and emphasis and become again blessings instead of curses.
Summary: Believers must worship Christ alone and detest the worship of Mammon, while at the same time becoming adept in the use of Mammon’s instruments and tools, to the final and complete subversion of its rule and kingdom.
The Way Justice is Achieved We affirm that the bloodshed of the cross reveals as nothing else could the antithesis between righteousness and unrighteousness. The ultimate revelation of the character of God in this fallen world was the holy wrath which He poured out upon our sin in the death of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24-25). In that death we see in Jesus the passive and obedient acceptance of that wrath (Phil. 2:8), the way of righteous peace, and the righteous outpouring of God’s hatred of sin, the way of righteous war (2 Cor. 5:21).
We deny that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was ineffectual. This was a cruciform suffering that utterly defeated the principalities and powers (Col. 2:15), those who had held the world in bondage to their closed system of ungodly and bloodthirsty violence (2 Cor. 4:4), but who were now defeated.
We affirm that as a result of this victory of the gospel, the world will ultimately be restored to its Edenic state (Rev. 22:2), in which no one will hurt or destroy – do injustice – in all God’s holy mountain (Is. 11:9). This gradual restoration will culminate in the last day, when Christ will come and destroy His last enemy, death. The goal of all human history is therefore to arrive at that place of universal rest and peace, and believers are to strive to be the peacemakers who will be called the children of God (Matt. 5:9).
We deny that the kingdom of God is extended in the same way that other earthly kingdoms are. The central driving force in bringing in Christ’s kingdom is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations of men (Matt. 28:18-20), and the establishment and nurture of worshiping communities everywhere gathered around the Word and sacrament (Mal. 1:11; Matt 28:18-20; Heb. 12. 18-26). As such, churches are established in every place, they become the living centers of obedient kingdom life as the members of their churches are equipped by the Church to occupy themselves in every lawful vocation in distinctively Christian ways (Eph. 4:12).
We affirm that in the biblical vision of the future every aspect of human life will eventually come to be oriented rightly to the Church, to the right worship of God, and will be holiness to the Lord (Zech. 14:21). Every aspect of human life comes under the authority of the Church as the Church makes disciples, teaching Christians how they are to live throughout the course of their lives. The point of connection between the Church as the temple of the Kingdom and the Kingdom itself is brought about by the world submitting to the demands of discipleship (Is. 49:23). In that Day “the Government shall be upon His shoulders” (Isa. 9:6) – the governments of men will have conformed themselves to the justice and righteousness of God. But until that day, God’s people have a the task to demonstrate justice through their individual and corporate actions, as well as to challenge the use of ungodly principles in a vain attempt to procure economic justice. (Is. 1:10, Is. 5:18-20)
We deny that we may keep our consciences clean by simply accepting what the magistrate says about the justice of his cause. In particular, we need to reject and testify against the implicit and explicit violence of a state that allows the wealthy to prey upon the poor through ungodly conquest, rapacious taxation, ungodly use of economic sanctions, inflating the currency, outlawing jobs for the poor through minimum wage laws, collusion between governments and corporations, or establishing millions of well-paid jobs ostensibly dedicated to “relieving” poverty.
Summary: The gospel fights in this world as the champion of true peace, and all who love that gospel will understand the relationship of means and ends, and the slow, inexorable progress of the gospel through the centuries.
Economic Sins and Crimes We affirm the distinction between sins and crimes. A particular activity should be criminal if the Scriptures identify it as the sort of evil that should be forcibly stopped and punished by the magistrate. Theft is both a sin and a crime. Covetousness is a sin, to be judged by God at the last day. Refusal to outlaw covetousness is not to be considered as approval of it, but rather as men staying within their appointed bounds, knowing that they cannot see the heart. At the same time, the civil government does not have to be silent about the destructive nature of sin (as distinct from crime). The magistrate is fully within his authority when he honors the righteous (Rom. 13: 3).
We deny that this means that the Church should be silent when it comes to the sinful mistreatment of the poor by the powerful. Manipulation of the weak by the strong should be confronted as part of the prophetic ministry of the Church. Just as sexual lust should never be criminalized, but should still be rebuked from the pulpit, so also with legal mistreatment of the poor. Because such sin will eventually be brought before the highest court of all, the ministry of Christ should declare this reality beforehand.
We affirm that oppression of the poor is a great evil (Jer. 5:19-31; Ez. 22), regardless of whether the perpetrator is in the public or private sector. If that oppression is carried off by means of fraud, deception, rigged monopolies, abusive employers, or a refusal to pay contracted wages, then the Church should be in the forefront of those disciplining her own members, and requiring the civil magistrate to do what God requires—to punish evil (Rom. 13: 1-6). If that oppression takes the form of public policy that manufactures poverty by incentivizing sinful and irresponsible behavior or disincentivizing prudence and work, then the Church has responsibility to oppose that, as well.
We deny that the problem of private sector oppression can be solved by giving the state regulatory powers not granted to the magistrate anywhere in Scripture. We observe that the historical norm, including that which Jesus opposed in His agreement with the witness of the prophets, is that of a “private sector” few operating in mutually-beneficial cooperation with “public sector” coercive power, concentrated in kings/emperors and their retinues, or presidents, legislatures and courts serving the same ends. When corporations, organized crime, or powerful individuals are abusing people, to respond by giving unscriptural authority to the magistrate usually gives the thieves more instruments to work with as they continue to abuse their victims. Far more common than powerful corporations disregarding the law and abusing the public are powerful corporations backed by a powerful state as they disregard the law.
We affirm that the tradition of economic liberty under biblical law was one that developed in the Christian West, and that it developed because of the gospel. Because of widespread faith in the triune God of Scripture, a societal expectation developed that valued security for private property, fixed weights and measures, liberty in buying and selling, and liberty for laborers. This provided a basis for true liberty that overthrew the pagan concept of the command economy.
We deny that economic liberty under biblical law can be sustained apart from a genuine, culture-wide faith in Jesus Christ. Free markets are not our savior; Jesus Christ is. Private property is not our savior; Jesus Christ is. At the same time, when Jesus Christ saves us, the result is salvation that is intended to work its way throughout the entire culture. The fruits of salvation should never be looked to as though they were some kind of a savior, as secular capitalists have often done. The liberty we are defending is the kind of liberty that is the result of the Spirit’s work (Is. 61:1; Luke 4:18; 2 Cor. 3:17), never license.
Summary: When something is classified as a crime, then coercion and force are justified in dealing with it. In order to protect society from unlimited abuses, it is therefore necessary to classify as crimes only those practices which Scripture identifies as criminal.
Generosity We affirm that true Christian generosity is an expression of God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:1-6). When we give materially to others as we ought, this is a clear indication that God has given His grace to us. Such grace may abound even in the midst of outward poverty, and indeed frequently thrives in such poverty. True Christian giving is a metaphor of the gospel (2 Cor. 9:13). When men see this spirit of generosity alive, they equate it with our submission to the gospel of Christ.
We deny that giving can be defined by predetermined amounts. True Christian giving, according to circumstance, is proportionate to the resources available (2 Cor. 8:10-12). The widow’s mite was evaluated on this basis (Mk. 12:42ff); we are not required to give what we do not have, nor are we to be manipulated or “guilted” into giving such that we ourselves are impoverished, as happened with that widow (Mark 12:38 -40,44). In addition, God’s acceptance of proportional giving is calibrated to the presence of a “willing mind” in the giver. God loves a cheerful giver and without that willing mind, a man might give all his goods to the poor without love and have it be considered as nothing (1 Cor. 13: 3).
We affirm that true Christian generosity is a work and gift of the Spirit (2 Cor. 8:7). As the Spirit works in us to cause us to abound in faith, or diligence, or love, or other fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), so also we should see abundance in this grace of generosity as functioning in the same way. The Spirit commands (Dt. 6:5), and the Spirit gives what He commands (Gal. 5:22).
We deny that recipients of such spiritual gifts need not submit to accountability. We also affirm that donors should seek out accountability as well. True Christian giving submits to accountability gladly (2 Cor. 8:16-24). Judas discovered long ago that the poor are a gold mine (Jn. 12:4-6), and many have sought to imitate him since (1 Tim. 6:5). Resentment of financial accountability for those handling donations because the “cause is worthy” or “because people are suffering” demonstrates a lack of biblical understanding.
We affirm that true Christian giving is to be inspired by and imitative of the death of Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 8:8-9). True Christian generosity is sacrificial. The particular sacrifice may vary, but the attitude should not. Riches are to be seen as an opportunity to give wisely so that others who are poor might become rich.
We deny that true generosity is ever wasted. The biblical giver loses money the way a farmer loses seed. True Christian giving embodies the principles of planting and harvesting (2 Cor. 9:6-11a). We give in order to receive, but only so that we might be able to give again. God loves a cheerful giver, and a proper cheerfulness arises from this understanding of how the world works. Those who give in faith are therefore putting seed in the ground to be blessed by God. Those who give foolishly or rashly are simply throwing seed away.
We affirm that true Christian generosity helps to create a biblical equity (2 Cor. 8:13-15). When the Spirit is at work creating His kind of community, no one suffers in grinding want and no one gives way to arrogant wealth. This equity does not exclude great wealth, but it does exclude an arrogant or preening display of it, a wanton wastefulness in it, or a tight-fisted clutching of it.
We deny that biblical equity resembles the same kind of leveling urged by secular egalitarianism. True Christian generosity strives to encourage others to greater levels of giving in a gracious and open way (2 Cor. 9:1-5), while never being based on accusations which are so often rooted in covetousness. While comparison of giving levels can obviously be abused (Matt. 6:3), nevertheless there is to be enough openness in the body to be able to spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).
We affirm that true Christian generosity promotes and cultivates thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:11b-15), and thanksgiving in its turn promotes generosity. Feeling guilty for the material blessings that God has given to us is the antithesis of biblical generosity. Because we are so grateful for what we have received, this should quicken in us a fierce desire to share it with others. But if our wealth is a cancer to our souls, why should we want to spread it around? Gratitude exhibits a heart that gives an enormous amount. Guilt always gives just enough to make the guilt go away. We therefore reject every form of guilt manipulation.
We deny that this means that there is no such thing as true guilt surrounding the use of money. But when men sin with their money, the call of the gospel is always to true repentance—and their repentance is not for the fact of the wealth, but rather for the way it was obtained. For example, a thief must repent of his stealing (Eph. 4:28), and must make restitution (Luke 19:8). Whores and dogs must not bring their earnings into the house of the Lord (Dt. 23:18). An employer who withholds wages from his workers must put it right (Jas. 5:4). The prophets had a great deal to say to those who obtained their wealth through fraud and abuse (e.g. Amos 5:12; 8:4, 6). Jesus called upon the “Rich Young Ruler” to recognize that his possessions had come to him through the entrenched political injustice that enriched the “connected” in ways opposed to the equity of the God’s Law, so that he was in fact picking and choosing which aspect of the Law he would keep. His ill-gotten gain must be restored to those from whom it was expropriated. (Luke 18:18-23, Matt. 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22) Restitution in all such instances of financial wrong-doing is necessary, but such restitution is not generosity. So we mean simply that the mere fact of wealth as such does not incur guilt, but should nevertheless be a spur to grateful generosity.
We affirm that our goal is to live before the Lord in such a way that a biblical equity prevails, and that none of our members feel the need to apply to secular and unbelieving sources of mercy work, such as food stamps, welfare, financial aid for poverty relief, (Dt. 15:4; Acts 4:34). We further affirm that our mercy work should not depend in any way on these outside sources of help.
We deny that this means that we must have nothing to do with those who are involved in various forms of social work. We seek to coordinate our efforts with those who work in other such agencies, but do so in order to give, and not to receive. We do not want to receive any aid from unbelievers for what we are extending in the name of Jesus Christ (3 John 7).
Summary: Christian generosity is one of the central ways that believers are called to imitate the life of the triune God, embodying the sacrifice of Jesus, giving as an overflow of love and gratitude, and never from a sense of resentment or guilt.
Mercy We affirm that the basis of our charity is to be our recognition of the mercy we have received from God (2 Cor. 4:1). We do not extend mercy because others have earned it and may demand it of us, but rather we extend it with the knowledge that we received it when we did not deserve it (Eph. 2:1-7). Freely we have received, freely we are to give (Matt. 10:8), and we are to give in this way without thought of repayment (Luke 14:12-13).
We deny that men must earn their right to be shown charity. No one can disqualify himself from the realm of mercy ministry by rebellion or sin. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Those who are merciful shall receive mercy (Matt. 5:7). In mercy we give nothing but what was given to us. At the same time, rebellion and sin do distort a person’s sense of what he needs to receive (Prov. 23:35). But we are called to give, as far as it is possible with us, what a person actually needs and not necessarily what he thinks he needs (Acts 3:6).
We affirm that charity should extend equally to the “deserving poor” (1 Cor. 16:1) as well as to the “undeserving poor” (2 Thess. 3:10). Charity makes a distinction between them, but only in what is given, not in a willingness to give. The deserving poor receive, for example, gifts of money (1 Cor. 16:1), clothing (Matt. 25:38), food (Matt. 25:37), and shelter (Matt. 25:38). The undeserving poor receive accountability (Prov. 6:9), encouragement, instruction and admonition in developing a work ethic (2 Thess. 3:12), and godly teaching related to these things (Eph. 4:28). The gleaning laws of the Old Testament recognize this distinction plainly. The poor are defined as those who are “without,” and these different categories exist because people go without different things. Some are without Christ, and are spiritually poor, while others are without food, and are physically poor. Some, in danger of starvation, are absolutely poor, while others in First World countries are relatively poor because they have an older car. Charity should be extended to all, but intelligent charity requires knowledge of what it is they are going without. Further, we affirm that scripture distinguishes between types of charity; pure financial relief versus “opportunity investment” – interest free loans to the able who have suffered financial reversal, or “sojourners” – those who have walked away from their former lives to join themselves to God’s Kingdom (a form of repentance) and so have lost their income or property. (Ex. 22:25, Lev.25:35-37).
We deny that we live in a world of fixed or dwindling resources. The original charge to mankind was to multiply God’s blessings through the delegated application of His image invested in us. The work of God in the world is a work that multiplies in the power of the Spirit. He multiplies disciples (Acts 6,1,7; 9:31), and He sees to it that the Word of God multiplies (Acts 12:24). In the same way, the blessing of God on a people will see mercy and all His graces multiplied (Jude 2), with the result that as we grow to be more and more like God, we will be growing rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4-10). Wealth under God’s blessing is not a zero-sum game, in which the size of the pie is fixed, resulting in a smaller piece for one man every time another man gets a bigger piece. God has created the world in such a way that His blessings grow and multiply, and the more we learn what charity means, the more those blessings will continue to grow (2 Cor. 9:10). This is another way of saying that the pie grows under the blessing of God. The mere fact of disparity in income levels does not mean that an injustice was done.
We affirm that the tithe is the floor on which we stand (Luke 18:12), not a ceiling we vainly try to touch, or a ceiling we pride ourselves on having touched. The tithe is a rudimentary financial discipline (1 Cor. 9:14), which enables us to grow up into overflowing generosity (2 Cor. 8:2). A tithe of the increase is given as testimony to the realization that God is the God of all increase, and we are merely stewards of all that He owns and has entrusted to use for a time. As a result, the tithe represents and seals true liberation in Christ, although even this can be abused. There was a man who used to fast twice a week, and he tithed everything that came into his house, and yet he went home unjustified (Luke 18:12). Having given the tithe, we are privileged to give up offerings of our own volition.
We deny that we may make common cause with those who deny the infallibility of God’s holy Word. Because we live in an egalitarian and sentimentalist age, we must take care never to allow our work of biblical mercy to be co-opted or confused with the jargon of collectivism, liberation theology, socialism or any other form of statism, with their false appeals to “justice” in the face of what they think is “oppression.” To the extent that we find ourselves working for the same goals that unbelievers may have, whether they are of the right or the left politically, we must constantly keep the distinction between allies and cobelligerents in mind. Mercy is driven by joy and gratitude (2 Cor. 9:7), never by envy or ressentiment (John 12:5; 1 Cor. 13:3). Our defense of property is driven by our commitment to Scripture (Ex. 20: 15, 17), and not by the fear that the haves project toward the have-nots. For us, the tithe, like the sabbath, represents rest. A tithing society would not be vexed by the problems represented by acute poverty.
We affirm that mercy is extended face to face, individual by individual, and family by family (Luke 10:29). Recipients of true mercy have faces, and so the Church is to be involved in mercy ministry directly (Jas. 1:27), at a personal level. And at the macro-economic level, the Church is privileged to exercise influence by preaching the gospel powerfully, liberating men from their sins and lusts (Lev. 25:10; 2 Cor. 3:17), therefore establishing the foundation of a righteous economic order. Men who have been freed from their sins will create markets that are genuinely free, and they are the only ones who can do this. And markets that are genuinely free are markets that will generate the kind of wealth in which all may participate, obviating over time the need for ongoing mercy ministries or works of charity. Just as there will be no armies or navies in the latter days, so neither will there be flop houses and soup kitchens.
We deny that there is any tension between faith and works, between true love and true doctrine, between the word and the deed. Sound works of mercy will always be accompanied by the soundness of the spoken and written Word.
Summary: Mercy is given to all of us by God, and we are to demonstrate that we grasp what we have been given by extending it to others. This mercy is to be relational, economic, personal, and more.
Call for Action As God has richly blessed us with salvation, and has added to this material prosperity, we pray that our response would be one of corresponding gratitude and imitative grace. We therefore encourage all of our people to engage themselves gladly in the work of the kingdom, extending the kindness of Christ to others, just as the Father has extended it to us in the power of the Spirit. Freely we have received, and so let us freely give (Matt. 10:8)